Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines
Whereas the big-brother release of Assassin’s Creed II on the PS3/360 does away with sulky ex-protagonist Altair, and fellow DS version pops everything into a manageable 2D setting, the latest PSP incarnation of the franchise – Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines – seems to be doing its best to ape the full-blown 3D experience of the very first game. This means, inevitably, that the task Griptonite Games have bestowed upon themselves is to replicate everything people expect from the technically superior versions, but squashed down onto the PSP’s itsy-bitsy screen and comparatively limited technical prowess. Because that has always worked so well in the past.
What’s surprising, though, is how functional they’ve made the transition. It actually does feel like a little handheld version of Assassin’s Creed, with the fundamental tenets of leaping up tall buildings and jabbing sharp pokey objects into extravagant regional stereotypes still very much in place. As is customary for the series, you also spend very little time actually assassinating the targets you’re supposed to be silently dispatching in the first place. Plus there are all kinds of conspiracy antics underfoot with the nefarious Templars.
Griptonite are shrewd enough to manoeuvre Bloodlines away from the pitfalls which dogged its source of inspiration. Missions tend to be less of a faux-optional arbitrary affair – that loathed cycle of pick-pocketing and sitting on benches – and more akin to a traditional series of forced quests, which allows the game to flex its thinking muscle and throw some more inventive stuff in your direction. It also allows quests to directly follow on from one another, which nicely frames the proceedings.
Sooner or later, however, those traditional side quests start to eke their way in. Why not climb up all the buildings and peek from their lofty perches, the game suggests. But you won’t care, because the limited draw distance and tiny areas don’t allow for the same kind of breathtaking vistas of the console versions. Upgrades also feel wholly unnecessary, which ultimately gives you very little incentive to roam about and get everything done; but that doesn’t stop the game from trying to ram it down your throat.
The biggest issue is a technical one: the sorely lacking AI. I don’t know if the team at Griptonite are trying to make an inflammatory comment about the average grey matter of a citizen in medieval Cyprus, where the game is set, but everyone in Bloodlines is stupid. Really stupid. Enemies will often take ages to notice when you’ve murdered one of their companions, be completely unable to track you if you’re more than thirty centimetres away and generally show a complete disregard for providing some sort of obstacle between you and your imminent killing sprees. It makes everything far too simplistic.
Combat is still a big part of the game, and very much remains a to-and-fro of attacks and counter-attacks. The severely inept guards prove to be even easier to run away from than they are to routinely dispatch with the odd button press, however. This also reminds you how trying to hoof it for any length of time makes it abundantly clear how tiny the locations are.
What is surprising, or probably isn’t if you’re one of the original’s detractors, is how much better Assassin’s Creed often feels with some of its more decadent gubbins trimmed away. There’s no startlingly great expanse of land to traverse to get from city to city, for instance, and the small storage capacity of the UMD means there’s simply no room for any droll, over-long cutscenes set outside of the Animus. Who’d have thought that technological restraints would inadvertently remove the franchise’s chaff?
Unfortunately its decided lack of wheaty-bits stops the game from ever becoming anything noteworthy. It never quite matches itself up to the nuance of Ubisoft’s Montreal’s renditions; even less so when compared to the vastly superior Assassin’s Creed II, which is what this diminutive version has marketed itself completely around. No matter how much the game gets right – and it does do surprisingly well at a great many things – it can’t ever manage to quite shake off the whiff of being a poor man’s Assassin’s Creed II.
Despite some obvious talent on the part of Griptonite Games, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines smacks a little too much of an unloved, unwanted by-product birthed from the success of the franchise. It doesn’t tie into the main series properly, directly contradicts the very beginning of Assassin’s Creed II and, more urgently, fails to achieve the objective its set itself: to serve as scaled-down but fully functional replica of the original game. It’s still one of the best PSP games in a while, though.
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